An ethnographic approach to the people-space-technology triptych presupposes attention to the three poles, privileging the study of the relationship between them. Rather than considering social actors, spatial contexts and ICTs as separate elements, disseminated and subjugated to a macro and homogeneous urban order, it is essential to explore the dynamics through which the three constituent elements of the triptych are related, generating specific meanings, places and landscapes.
We are interested in going further from previous analyses in the field which, having an interest in answering certain objectives, do not correspond to what is primarily intended by an ethnographic approach. In the close and inside ethnographical approach, the objective is to provide a framework that contributes to awareness and guide scholars in capturing and understanding the less well-known aspects, though often seemingly obvious, singularities, patterns, etc., of the people-space-technology relationship. From a multidimensional point of view, the ethnography will be of interest to reconcile different levels of interpretation and scales of analysis: from the daily experiences of people in living spaces to those of a socio-historical nature; from social practices, discourses and representations, to aspects of the production and circulation of images and imagery; from planning ideologies to intervention techniques and urban design. In the idealized ethnography design, we suggest here (see Fig. 1) that the relations someone might intend to study, pivot around five linked points or questions of interest: Who are the users? How do they use the space? When do they use the space? Where, i.e. which places do they use? and What do users do (and what artefacts they use) in the spaces?
Through ethnographic methods, the aim is to capture the relations between everyday micro-geographies in the use and appropriation of space, the use (or not) of technological artefacts and objects, the practices and socio-spatial representations, and the established relations between spaces, behaviours and environments in the constitution of urban places and landscapes (Menezes and Smaniotto Costa 2017)Footnote 3. These relations are still central to understanding the meaning of lived spaces and the constituted spatialities considered important for urban design and planning as envisaged by the CyberParks project.
Having this general framework in mind, Fig. 2 presents the main dimensions research should address providing also the specific content (or objectives) of each dimension. In particular, we argue that the triptych people-space-technology can be ethnologically analysed along three dimensions, all of which keep the human element to the forefront while exploring the nexus of the other two (i.e. POS and ICT). The first dimension concerns the use and appropriation of POS by people.
Figure 2 focuses on the relationships between the socio-demographic characteristics of the users, on the one hand, and the physical, spatial, environmental and functional characteristics of the POS on the other, and it aims to capture the richness of deployed behaviours and practices in the use and appropriation of POS. The second dimension brings into play the ICT element, placing emphasis on the way it affects space and social practices. In particular, it focuses on the relationships between ICT usage (of devices, artefacts, etc.) in POS and the dynamics of their interaction, aiming to capture the effect ICTs have on people’s behaviour and practises in POS. The last dimension concentrates on meanings and representations of these relations. It aims to capture the richness of values, images and meanings (social, economic, symbolic, environmental, etc.) people attach to POS vis-à-vis their needs and levels of their satisfaction, and to evaluate the contribution of ICT (services, equipment, artefacts, etc.) in the fulfilment of those needs and the enhancement of POS attractiveness to the public.
Having identified the main dimensions of inquiry, the next step is to specify the variables of analysis and the kind of information that needs to be sought. Figures 3, 4 and 5 present these for the first, second and third dimensions respectively. It should be noted that our intention here is not to provide a full check-list of the relevant variables and information required, but rather to eclectically outline indicative aspects in order to convey our rationale and to clarify our perspective.
The framework provided in this chapter has to be seen as holistic view towards public open space development within the scope of “triptych” approach for better understanding people-space-technology relationships. With regard to the first dimension of our approach, we envisage two sets of variables that need to be considered (see Fig. 3). The first concentrates on the social aspects of the users and the physical and temporal elements of their POS use. Information that needs to be collected concerns: the socio-demographic characteristics of the users (age, gender, education level, etc.), which provide the profile of the users, socio-cultural attributes (e.g. lifestyle) to allow for a description of the way users use the POS; social relationships (e.g. level of socialisation), which delineate the relationships between users in the POS; and use patterns (e.g. aspects of exclusion or heterogeneity); which outline the ways space is used and appropriated. In regard to the physical aspects of space, one needs to examine the location and accessibility characteristics of the POS, the composition of space (e.g. shadowed-sunny places), its service and functional characteristics (e.g. equipment, facilities and services available) and its environmental elements (vegetation cover, flora and fauna, etc.). The temporal element, finally, concerns the time of the study (hour, day and season) and the weather characteristics associated with it (temperature, humidity, etc.). The second set of variables we suggest concentrates on the practices and behavioural patterns of space usage. These concern the ways that space is used by the visitors (walking, strolling, sitting, exercising, etc.), the pattern of their accessibility, the frequency, regularity and intensity of the use, and the degree of territorialisation that may emerge (e.g. patterns of social or digital exclusion).
Moving to the second dimension of our framework, we place emphasis on ICT artefacts and objects of use (see Fig. 4). Here researchers need to record the types of devices and applications visitors used (smart phone, laptop, etc.), the artefacts, equipment and facilities the space provides to users (e.g. Wi-Fi access, furniture to electrically charge devices), the purpose of device and artefact use (e.g. for recreation, communication, work), the patterns of such use, and finally, the frequency and timing of the ICT use.
In the third dimension of our approach we perceive two key sets of variables that need to be examined (see Fig. 5). The first refers to the memories and perceptions of space, and the second to users’ needs and levels of their satisfaction. With regard to the former, information that needs to be collected concerns: the social memories and meanings space connotes (i.e. how people perceive space and their social relationships in space); the images and imaginaries space conveys to different types of users and actors involved (e.g. planners, politicians, etc.); perceptions of security, safety and quality of space (noise, pollution, etc.); and, elements of space attractiveness to users (physical, environmental, digital, social, etc.). Turning to the second set of variables in this dimension, aspects that need to be considered include the level of users’ satisfaction from all elements of space (physical, environmental, social, digital, functional, security, etc.), as well as their needs and their requirements. Last, but not least, users could and should provide the researcher with their ideas and suggestions of how space can be improved (in all of its aspects: physical, environmental, functional, etc.) and particularly with reference to its digital dimension. This concerns the provision of technological tools, artefacts, facilities and services that would improve POS quality and enhance social inclusion and participation.